This is what a competitive rebuild looks like.
Holding the Chiefs, even this iteration of them, to 27 points is enough to have a shot at winning the game — which is all you can ask for against Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid. Had it not been for some mismanaged timeouts and a couple of questionable penalty calls, Minnesota would have held a legitimate chance to tie it up at the end of the game, anyway.
With the Chiefs largely taking away Justin Jefferson’s impact, and Jefferson getting hurt late in the game, it was Vikings rookie wide receiver Jordan Addison who stepped up — making plays at the exact time Minnesota needed them and leading the team with 67 receiving yards. Two of his catches converted fourth downs. Another came on third down. And another was caught for a touchdown. It means two-thirds of his catches on the day were of vital importance to sustaining drives and came in the most clutch of situations.
There were other bright spots, too. The defense registered two sacks, one from each of their top pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport, as well as nine quarterback hits on Mahomes. He’s slippery, to say the least. Both sacks came on four-man pressures. The defense also held the Chiefs to just 64 yards rushing, Mahomes to just 266 net yards passing.
In the team’s first win last week, they held the Carolina Panthers to just 13 points. The defense is getting better and grasping Brian Flores’ new system.
Therein lie the wins for this Vikings team right now. A competitive rebuild, as general manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah put it this offseason, acknowledges that you aren’t all the way there. It means there are still pieces needed and this roster isn’t built to contend. That’s a different ‘C’ word and the distinction is enormous.
So you have to take the little wins where you can get them. The Vikings heavily outperformed expectations last season by going 13-4 and likely weren’t as ready to contend as that record suggested. After all, they had a negative point differential on the season. They eked out one-score wins at a rate never seen in the NFL before (11-0 in one-score games was a record). The result of that season was expectations beyond the normal range.
They’re not sold on the quarterback, letting Cousins play out the last year of his deal. They released their top running back, Dalvin Cook, and their No. 2 receiver, Adam Thielen. They did trade for their top tight end — who was arguably their No. 2 pass-catcher last season — and extended him. But that left them without much cap space and only five original picks heading into the 2023 NFL Draft, one of which was compensatory.
There was always going to be more work to do. There were always going to be ups and downs. There was always going to be regression to the mean to atone for outperforming the talent level of last season’s roster.
The good news: there are legitimate bricks to build upon going forward. Jefferson remains the focal point of the offense, and might be for the next decade. Head coach Kevin O’Connell didn’t have a timetable for his injury suffered in Sunday’s game, but he’s still part of the long-term plans. The team clearly hit on Addison.
They also have two pass rushers in Danielle Hunter and Marcus Davenport who, coupled with Flores’ scheme, are finally figuring out how to get pressure. The Vikings have 15 sacks this season so far and Hunter already has six himself.
Minnesota has been in, and had a chance to win, all five of their games this year (yes, technically even Philadelphia). That’s the competitive part. The rebuild is what we’re seeing now.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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